New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
The annual Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund Gala is the party of the year. A yearly event that is, in Andrea Catsimatidis’ words “definitely the one day marked on everyone’s calendar… and it gives everybody the opportunity to help the kids.”
The19th Annual Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund Gala, enjoyed by more than 1200 people at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York on Monday, May 8, was, as in years before, a glamorous evening of dining and dancing, rubbing shoulders with community leaders and TV and media stars, making new acquaintances, and celebrating with friends and family.
But the Gala, with its showers of golden confetti and balloons galore, singers Kati Garbi, The Shirelles, and the band ALPHA, was about much more than giving people a fabulous time. , It was a vote of confidence in the future, providing economic assistance to the best and brightest young students of the Greek American community to pursue their life dreams.
“This is a magical night for students who worked so hard…. and I think that it’s just beginning for them, that it will lead to an unimaginably wonderful future, Margo Catsimatidis told the GN, “and it’s appreciated from the heart, and that’s what makes a difference.”
This year — the first time that the HTSF awarded scholarships (4) to students attending various Greek grammar schools and high schools in the area to show support to parents help to perpetuate the Greek cultural heritage by sending their children to Greek schools — 30 scholarships were awarded to students from all over the United States.
The Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund (HTSF) has awarded more than 700 scholarships totaling over $1.8 million dollars since it began almost twenty years ago.
It doesn’t end with the scholarships, however. The recipients are assisted with jobs and advice throughout their careers by the HTSF members’ network. As a matter of fact, 20 past scholarship recipients are currently on the HTSF Committee because they want to give back to the community. “It means the world to us to see these kids come back to assist us,” says Nick Katsoris, Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund President and Dinner Chairman.
And the next Catsimatidis generation is just as committed to philanthropy, as are John and Margo. Andrea, 20, and John, 17, Catsimatidis express great pride in their parents’ promotion of young students and other humanitarian endeavors. “My parents took us along in their work with foundations — National Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, Juvenile Diabetes and Police Athletic League — and this was a great example to us,” John Catsimatidis told the GN, I’ll continue what my parents instilled in me,”
The gracious Carolyn B. Maloney, Co-Chair and Co-Founder of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, who has attended prior Galas, told the GN that her hope is to continue to support the HTSF scholarships, “an investment in the future”. Ms. Maloney pointed out humorously that it was she who introduced Andrea Catsimatidis and her fianceé, Christopher Nixon Cox, to each other. Mr. Cox attended the Gala with Andrea.
After the cocktail hour, guests found their tables, whose elegant all-white theme was accented, at each place setting, by a small book containing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. The book was the gift of James Orphanides (Partner Centurion Holdings LLC and Chairman Emeritus of First American Title Insurance Co. of NY). Mr. Orphanides and George Eads, star of the hit CBS drama, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, were recipients of the HTSF’s 2010 Humanitarian Award.
The American and Greek National Anthems were sung by Nicolette Scott, 2010 scholarship recipient, and Eleni Rodopoulos Kaufman, 2000 scholarship recipient, respectively, and Rev. Fr. Alexander Karloutsos, Assistant to His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, delivered the Invocation.
5 previous HTSF Honorees: Ernie Anastas, FOX 5 News Anchor, Alexis Christoforou, CBS News Anchor, the Hon. Nick Tsoucalas, Judge of the US Court of International Trade, Nick Gregory, FOX 5 Meteorologist,, and actor Frank Dicopoulos presented the scholarships onstage, while 4 big screen presenters, also previous HTSF Honorees, were Cat Cora, the FOOD Network’s Iron Chef, Melina Kanakaredes, actor, CSI: NewYork, Gilles Marini, actor, Brothers and Sisters, and actor Constantine Maroulis.
Speaking to the scholarship recipients George Eads made it short, sweet, and emotional, saying that he was “never more proud of his heritage… never more proud of being Greek. Texas is where I’m from, but Greek is who I am!” he said, amidst cheers from the audience. “My tenacity is ferocious, and I have a heavy work ethic,” said Eads, who confessed to knowing only a few phrases in Greek, “but I remember the loving embrace of a Yiayia”. “It’s your party,” he said, “Being Greek you can all attest to this… don’t tell me ‘I can’t do this’. Be tenacious; be unrelenting with the challenges that lie ahead. Euxaristo!”
James Orphanides gave the scholarship recipients three life lessons, citing examples from history and the lives of others. The first illustrated the value of courage; “to stand up and do what you think is right, even if you go against the tide of popular opinion”. The second taught that one should not “judge a book by its cover,” and the third demonstrated that although your life might be full to overflowing with commitments, “you can always make time for a cup of coffee with a friend”. Other advice was to find someone to love and love them, find something you love to do and do it, and find something you want to do on Saturday night.
The honor of having been chosen and gratitude for the financial support was the universal theme among the scholarship recipients. “I’m so honored to represent the Greek community in my small way,” high school senior Ellen Demetracopoulos, who will go on to the Physician’s Assistant Program at DeSales University, told the GN, “I feel a drive to work harder with someone believing in me and supporting me,” and Theodore Manoletos a high school senior from Worcester, MASS (who is on an all-star math team taking Master Classes at Harvard) said that the scholarship makes pursuing Applied Science and Mathematics toward his goal of working in Biostatistics “accessible”. Konstantinos Dimopoulos’ scholarship will assist him to pursue a Masters degree in Civil Engineering at Brooklyn Polytechnic, researching water quality and upgrading deteriorating infrastructures, with serious practical applications such as the detection of bio warfare. Dimopoulos’ mother expressed that the scholarship was a confirmation of the tremendous amount of hard work her son had put in. “He won’t give up,” she said, “he operates on one principle: education, education, education. He loves his heritage, and he will always give back to the community.”
Katsoris told the GN that the HTSF is growing in significance. “As we celebrate our 20th year we realize the importance of our organization and pledge to continue in our efforts. In fact, the HTSF is more important now than it was 20 years ago, not only because of the current economic climate, but also because in an age where we are watching the Greek culture become more diluted with each generation, we recognize the utmost importance of trying to preserve the Greek culture in our community, and this is exactly what we endeavor to do with our event.”
“We owe the success of this year’s Gala to all those who have supported our efforts. Without them there would be no Gala and without the Gala, no scholarships. We are also so honored and blessed to have had two such exemplary honorees in James Orphanides and George Eads who have worked so hard in their careers there by setting perfect examples for our scholarship recipients to emulate,” said Katsoris, stressing that “while the money granted to them is of utmost importance, what we do for these kids goes beyond the check they receive. What we endeavor to accomplish for these kids is to provide a once-in-a-lifetime evening for them that they will remember throughout their careers. “
The Gala may be the first black tie event for some of the recipients, said Katsoris, “and we celebrate them and their accomplishments before a crowd of 1200 people. This provides them with the encouragement to continue to do well.”
Next year we hope to have all our past honorees and past scholarship recipients back for our 20th anniversary Gala on May 14, 2011.
In addition to those mentioned, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of North America, Congresswoman, The Honorable Ambassador Aghi Balta, Consul General of Greece in New York, and The Honorable Koula Sophianou, Consul General of Cyprus in New York, were among the distinguished guests.
The Gala is the sole fundraiser for the Scholarship Fund. All money raised through ticket sales, raffles, journal, and donations is given out the following year in scholarships. Only 6 cents out of every dollar raised from the Gala go toward HTSF operating expenses.